Thursday, May 19, 2011

Forest: Trees

71º ~ bright sun shining down through fully leafed trees, a nice breeze stirring

I am returned from my trip up home and am ready to dive back into poetry.  Today's the day, woo hoo!

As most of you know, I've been working on and sending out my second book, In a World Made of Such Weather as This, for several years now.  It has landed in the semi-finalist and finalist pile several times, but so far, no joy.  Last fall, it went through a major reno (as they say in the housing business), which I detailed here.  All through the spring semester, I've wanted to go back to the book and see if the new order still worked for me.  Alas, this takes a very quiet mind and the semester got away from me. 

This morning, I sat down with the book and read it cover to cover, quietly, calmly, slowly, making notes and observations along the way.  My conclusion:

Wild Cat Den State Park, near Buffalo, IA
I am someone who cannot see the forest for the trees.  I love each and every poem in my book and I've tinkered and tinkered with them to get them to grow as tall and strong as these trees in Wild Cat Den State Park (with thanks to Sean & Kirsten for taking me there on my recent trip).  However, I have the most difficult time seeing the whole of the book. 

Yes, I can answer why each poem is where it is, and I know what links them one by one, but I have a hard time figuring out if this is the "right" order.  I liked my original order just fine, although it was very literal and stiff.  Once this was pointed out to me by good friend & poet, Stephanie Kartalopoulos, it was obvious, but I never would have seen it without her.  Now, I really like the new version, but I'm nervous that there's something else I'm missing, even though I've had several other readers check it over.

Some of this confusion results from the fact that I've just exchanged manuscripts with another good poetry friend, and I'm trying to read his book the way Steph read mine, with the strength of the whole taking more importance than the strength of each poem.  I love the fact that I have such great poetry friends who are willing to exchange poems and manuscripts, since looking at and critiquing their work makes me learn how to critique my own.  This is a lesson I'm always trying to teach in creative writing classes, the value of the workshop, and it's great to be reminded that it really does work outside the classroom.

This is also a lesson on perseverance.  So, this "looking at the whole" thing is not my strong suit, well then, I just need to practice.

I've commented before about my tendency to write poems that land closer to the lyric end of the lyric-narrative spectrum, and I think this adds to the issue.  The speaker of these poems does journey through an emotional 'arc' if we must call it that, but there is no clear timeline and no clear conflict and resolution as there are in many books based more on the narrative side of the spectrum. 

At least this gives me one place to begin my practice.  I need to look at books of mostly lyric poems and check out how they are ordered.  Maybe that will help.  Maybe I'll just see more trees, but the walk will be beautiful, no matter.


Kathleen said...

I am so glad you love your poems! Thank you again for this story of your process. And your forest of trees.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for stopping by Kathleen.

Molly said...

Let us know what you learn by looking at collections of mostly lyric poems -- I'm interested!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Molly, I hope I learn something! If so, I'll pass it on.